Should we judge the past?

Society is changing. Attitudes and behaviours which were once considered normal are no longer accepted or tolerated. This can create issues for readers and viewers of older material. Should we be offended, judgmental or willing to accept that the creators of the work had different values to our own? I have largely taken the third path, acknowledging quality without commenting on those values. Then I reached Tomb of the Cybermen in my marathon re-watch of Doctor Who.

First broadcast in 1967 Tomb is the oldest fully extant story featuring Patrick Troughton in the lead role. In 1992 it was the only Doctor Who story from the original era to top the VHS sales charts and is regarded as a classic. Some modern commentators have criticized the character of Toberman, a black, almost mute servant. The previous story, Evil of the Daleks, featured a black, mute Turkish slave who, like Toberman, sacrificed himself to save others. Evil was set in 1967 and Tomb in the 25th century. The writers had previously imagined an earlier future with international cooperation, so this appears to be a backward step.

I could interpret the story as taking a stance against prejudice by making Toberman the most powerful human and there is a line of the Doctor’s which supports that view. More disturbing, from my modern perspective, are the attitudes towards women who are treated as inferior by their male colleagues throughout.

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